Hot Springs parks show holiday spirit

By Wayne Bryan Published December 5, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Hot Springs Parks and Recreation Director Jean Wallace demonstrates laser-light projectors used in the Christmas decorations in Hill Wheatley Park. The laser illuminates undecorated trees at night, giving them the look of being ornamented with thousands of lights. Wallace said the project uses just one of the new items purchased at an international trade show in Dallas earlier this year for use in decorating Hot Springs.

HOT SPRINGS — The Christmas season started in Hot Springs on Nov. 25, not with a shopping frenzy, but with a blaze of Christmas lights and music, courtesy of the Hot Springs Parks and Recreation Department.

The lights came on first at Exchange Plaza on Central Avenue following the annual Chili Cook-off, with a display that included new decorations and lights.

“We have new wreaths and bows and lighted garlands,” said Ken Edwards, supervisor for the parks maintenance crew that oversees the city’s decorations. “On the front of the parking deck, we have dancing snowflakes and laser lights we purchased at an international decorations trade show in Dallas.”

Jean Wallace, director of the Hot Springs Parks and Recreation Department, said she and Edwards visited the trade show earlier in the year with representatives of Garvan Woodland Gardens, the 210-acre botanical in Garland County operated by the University of Arkansas.

“We are in year 2 of a five-year renovation plan for the decorations for Hill Wheatley Park, Exchange Plaza, Kenneth Adair Memorial Park and the Arlington Lawn,” Wallace said. “This is where we will be using some of the things we found in Dallas.”

She said the parks department’s efforts have been aided by the lighting experts at Garvan Gardens, which offers hundreds of lighted displays and more than a million lights in trees and pathways during the Christmas season that attract tens of thousands of visitors.

Some of the lights and displays not being used at the gardens this year were loaned to the parks department for use on the Arlington Lawn, Wallace said.

“We could not have such nice displays around the city without the help of the gardens, the city, Visit Hot Springs and the Downtown Merchants Association.”

Edwards said the use of LED lights have made bigger and brighter lighting displays possible; they are more energy efficient.

“They use way less power, maybe only 10 percent of the electricity of ordinary lights,” he said. “Also, you can run as many as 44 strings of lights on one outlet, whereas with the old style of lights, any more than six strands, and you would be worried about blowing a fuse.”

Another new display being used around the city is something called a holisphere.

“It is a series of rings you can snap together and make a ball that you can then wrap with lights,” Wallace said. “When you are done, it looks like a big bright Christmas ball ornament.”

The big change this year is in Adair Park, a small quiet park between two buildings on Central Avenue across from Bathhouse Row.

“The lights and displays are set to music,” Edwards said.

The music plays on speakers in the park. It is also being broadcast along Central Avenue in the evenings starting at 5. People driving down the street will be able to tune their radios to 87.9 FM to hear the music as they look at the decorations.

“It will play between Grand Avenue and Park Avenue, and the displays are timed to the music,” Edwards said. “If you hear a tune repeated, you will have heard the entire cycle of 12 tunes.”

Edwards said the harsh Christmas storm in 2012 damaged some of the lights operated by the parks department.

The lights wrapped around the trees did OK, but those in the branches really got messed up as limbs broke,” he said.

A special event is planned for Friday at Adair Park. There will be four memorial trees that can be decorated by the public.

“From 6 p.m. until 8 p.m., an ornament with the name of a loved one who has passed away or of someone now serving overseas can be placed on the trees,” he said. “Santa will also be there handing out candy canes.”

Edwards said organizers are concerned about the predicted weekend weather, and the event could be canceled.

On Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, the parks department will operate its annual Santa’s Switchboard.

The parks office becomes the switchboard for the North Pole as children ages 7 and younger receive calls from Santa and Mrs. Claus.

“Last year we had 545 children registered,” said Kathleen Fason, office manager for the parks department, who operates the switchboard. “We reached 354 children and sent out 190 letters.”

Forms for the calls were distributed to area schools before Thanksgiving and are also available at the parks office at 111 Opera St.

Calls are made by local volunteers who use the information from the forms to personalize each call to a child.

For more information about the displays or Switchboard Santa, call the parks department at (501) 321-6871.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or

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